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192 of 205 found the following review helpful:
A bereft inculcationJan 09, 2007
By Jonathan Appleseed
Deanna Raybourn intimated in her "Acknowledgements" that it took two years to find a publisher for this book. That's surprising, because for a first time author, she has the distinct poise of a seasoned author.
I was hooked from the first paragraph, certainly one of the most enticing I've seen in years: "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." From those two sentences, I knew that I was in very capable hands.
This was more than just a hook, however. These two sentences demonstrate a remarkable clarity of thought, and upon reading them, I not only chuckled but also settled into the book: I knew, beyond question, that I was in capable hands. There's nothing more important for an author than to establish within the very first paragraph that they know exactly what they're doing, that they are in complete control of their story. If we, the reader, don't have that sense - even if we're not consciously aware of it - we will lose interest.
While there are certainly tell-tale mystery elements here, it doesn't read like a "whodunit" mystery whatsoever. Raybourn presents her material in such a way that the reader may feel that they're experiencing something entirely new. I can't applaud her loudly enough for this.
Her characters are strong, well drawn, free of cliché, and far from the standard cardboard characters we see too often in fiction. Often an author will talk about characters speaking to them. These are characters that we as readers find ourselves drawn to because ultimately they are the most realistic; they appeal to the majority of our senses. I have to imagine that all of the major characters at times caused a cacophony in Raybourn's mind that kept her up into the wee hours of the morning madly working on her manuscript simply to get the voices to be quiet for a time!
Lady Julia in the beginning is three things, essentially: a sibling, a daughter, and a wife. She has little to no identity of her own. Within these pages, as she realizes (quickly) that her husband was murdered, she grows to the task of an "investigator", led by the rather harsh hand of Nicholas Brisbane, previously hired by her husband (prior to his death, of course ) to look into some rather disturbing notes he was receiving that heavily implied that his life was in immediate danger.
Her relationship with Nicholas is an interesting one, and it never falls into clichés. Thankfully.
The ending is a terrific surprise, and even if you guess at certain plot points, and believe you know who the murderer is, you will still find yourself reeling at the end when everything comes together.
One more thing - and don't you dare cheat!!! - the last sentence of the book was as satisfying as the first.
My only disappointment is that a major publisher didn't pick this up and put a significant marketing campaign behind it, one that, for example, The Thirteenth Tale received from its publisher. I came across this merely by chance at a bookstore. Oddly, it was the first book I saw when I walked in the store, even though it wasn't the most prominently displayed. I'm thankful that my eyes were set as they were that morning, for this beautifully written book gave me too few hours of enjoyment.
74 of 80 found the following review helpful:
"Julia, you need adventure."Jan 14, 2007
By E. Bukowsky
Deanna Raybourn's "Silent in the Grave" is a Victorian mystery set in London and featuring the newly widowed Lady Julia Grey. Julia's thirty-one year old husband, Sir Edward, has collapsed and died, apparently of an inherited heart ailment. Julia is shocked but not overly depressed about Edward's demise, since they had not shared a bed for some time. As the daughter of an earl, Julia has led a sheltered life, with servants at her beck and call and little to challenge or excite her. Her thus far boring existence is about to change, however.
A week after Sir Edward's funeral, a private inquiry agent named Nicholas Brisbane calls upon Lady Julia. It seems that Edward had engaged Brisbane to look into a series of threatening notes sent to him anonymously. Brisbane wants Lady Julia to consider the possibility that Edward may have been murdered. Julia angrily dismisses Brisbane with harsh words, but she eventually comes around to his way of thinking; they both embark on a search for Edward Grey's killer.
What makes "Silent in the Grave" eminently readable and entertaining is not the mystery itself, which proves to be a bit tepid (most mystery buffs will spot the killer long before Lady Julia). The novel shines because of its unusual and varied characters, sparkling and witty dialogue, and the author's sardonic look at the foibles of the upper classes in Victorian England. Lady Julia is a delightful heroine, who gradually changes from an unworldly and timid mouse into a daring and impulsive woman, willing to take risks to learn the truth. Brisbane is a cipher--a dark-eyed and mysterious stranger with a hidden past and a brooding demeanor. His virility and strength of character intrigue the love-starved Julia. Although she dislikes his rough manners, Julia feels an undeniable romantic attraction to him.
Enhancing the the book's colorful atmosphere are the motley group of servants, including Aquinas, a proud and dignified Italian butler, Morag, Julia's personal maid and a reformed prostitute, and Magda, a tormented gypsy whom Julia employs as her laundress. Other characters of note are Aunt Ursula, also known as the Ghoul, who moves into houses of mourning and often stays for as long as a year, and Fleur, a notorious courtesan and close friend of Nicholas Brisbane.
The author touches on such serious themes such as poverty, adultery, and prejudice, but for the most part, "Silent in the Grave" is lighthearted, humorous, and breezy fun. Raybourn satirizes the indolence and decadence of over-privileged Londoners with too much money and time on their hands. Such individuals become self-centered, cynical, and shallow. As Julia says of her late husband, "He liked things that came easily to him--his inheritance, money, me." Even Lady Julia, who is down-to-earth in most ways, is not entirely free of class prejudice, proclaiming, "We were charged with taking care of those to whom our money and our blood made us superior." At over five hundred pages, the book is a trifle long, but the story moves along rapidly and ends satisfyingly. After you finish this fine debut novel, you will be eager to read the second installment in the adventures of the enchanting and spirited Lady Julia Grey.
36 of 39 found the following review helpful:
Shows promise...Apr 03, 2008
London, England, 1886. Sir Edward Grey, a baronet with delicate health, dies during a party. Lady Julia Grey is upset with the passing of her husband, but not surprised. It was bound to happen sooner or later. So why was one of the guests, a Mr. Nicholas Brisbane, eyeing her as if she had been the one responsible for Sir Edward's death? It turns out that Brisbane is a private investigator. Sir Edward had hired him because he had received threatening letters and had feared for his life. Lady Julia refuses to believe Brisbane -- that is until she finds one of the threatening letters. It has been a year since her husband died. Will Brisbane want to help her solve the case? He has no choice but to accept, for Lady Julia is determined to find her husband's murderer at all cost.
This is a wonderful Victorian mystery with some gothic elements. Silent in the Grave is also the startup of a new murder mystery, with Julia and Nicholas as the sleuths. There are many twists and turns here. The mystery itself isn't surprising -- well, at least the murderer isn't, but the clues that gathered certainly are -- but the developments regarding Brisbane and some of the secondary characters are very fascinating. Lady Julia is a unique heroine and you truly feel the voice of a Victorian lady through her narrative. Brisbane is dark, brooding and mysterious -- no doubt inspired by gothic heroes such as Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester -- which makes him quite appealing. The secondary characters are interesting and the whole gypsy thing impressed, especially that the author writes about actual gypsies -- the ones that speak Romany. However, there are things about this novel that will make you want to suspend disbelief.
I'll begin with Julia's family. An eccentric family is good and well in a Victorian gothic, but a father who not only approves of his daughter taking in a lover but actually suggests her to do so? I. Don't. Think. So. Also, there is little historical reference in this book. Raybourn makes no mention of the breakthroughs in technology during the 1880s. She never mentions a telephone or something that had been a recent discovery around that era. Of course, it isn't necessary to mention those things, but why set a novel during the 1870s or 1880s if you'll make no mention of all the wonderful things that transpired during those decades? I am also wondering about Julia's title. To my knowledge, every wife of a baronet has been addressed to as Lady Surname, not Lady First Name. I may be wrong, and if someone knows this for sure, they can leave a comment in the Comments area. It is fine for close family members to address Edward as simply Edward, but others, especially people beneath his rank, would address him as Sir Edward at all times. The book lags in some areas, making it longer than necessary. There is far too much space in between chapters and starting each chapter with "The First/Second/Third Chapter," etc struck me as somewhat silly and pretentious. Other than that, I very much enjoyed this book. Deanna Raybourn is a pretty good writer and this series, in spite of its shortcomings, has a lot of potential. I look forward to reading Silent in the Sanctuary.
11 of 11 found the following review helpful:
A wickedly clever send-up of the Victorian mystery genreFeb 09, 2007
All Lady Julia Grey ever wanted was a normal life. Born into the large March family, all of whom pride themselves on their eccentricities, Julia is something of an oddity: "I had never fought a duel or run away with my footman or ridden a horse naked into Whitehall...I did not even keep a pet monkey or wear turbans or dye my dogs pink. I lived quietly, conventionally, as I had always wanted, and I think I had been something of a disappointment to them." Part of Julia's conventionality is her marriage to her childhood friend and sweetheart, Edward, a gentle, quiet, somewhat frail man.
Heart problems run in Edward's family, so when Edward collapses and dies at a party, Julia is saddened but not entirely surprised or at all suspicious. That is, until private investigator Nicholas Brisbane contacts her. It turns out that Edward had received a number of threatening messages in the months leading up to his death, messages that lead Brisbane, and eventually Julia, to acknowledge that Edward's death in fact may have been murder.
Almost as soon as she is able to emerge from the required one-year mourning period, Julia throws herself headlong into the search for Edward's killer, frequently butting heads with the enigmatic, endlessly fascinating Brisbane. Along the way, Julia finds herself troublingly, unwillingly, attracted to Brisbane, a man who is in every way the opposite of her late husband: "Brisbane was not at all the sort of man I admired. He was too dark, too tall, too thickly muscled, altogether too much. I preferred a slender, epicene form, with delicately sketched muscles and golden hair. Graceful, aristocratic, like a Renaissance statue. Like Edward."
During her investigation, Julia uncovers secrets about Edward, about her own family, even about her servants and about Brisbane himself. Most importantly, though, Julia uncovers hidden elements of her own personality, a strength and intellect she didn't know she possessed, as well as --- just maybe --- her own flair for the unconventional and unexpected.
Deanna Raybourn's debut novel is a wickedly clever send-up of the Victorian mystery genre. SILENT IN THE GRAVE explores the darker regions of the Victorian landscape, from the parlors and boudoirs of Julia's aristocratic world to the exotic society of the Gypsies. Grave robbing, prostitution, gambling, absinthe --- even a pet raven --- all contribute to the novel's sensational appeal. Raybourn tempers these dark topics, though, by mixing in plenty of humor. Absurd situations abound (including a truly bizarre murder weapon), and quirky characters verge on caricature.
As she leaves her self-imposed cocoon and becomes a woman of the world, Julia's own first-person narrative style gradually develops from unintentionally amusing naïve impressions to more mature --- and at times wickedly funny --- commentaries on the persons and places that surround her.
Add to the mix one of the most memorable heroines in recent memory --- a woman who is both convincingly of her time and yet undeniably modern --- and a thrillingly twisted conclusion, and what you have is a winning equation for a top-notch historical mystery that will leave readers dying for the sequel.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
11 of 11 found the following review helpful:
Wonderfully written and engagingFeb 16, 2007
By Kelly Olsakovsky
Although I don't normally read fiction, historic or otherwise, I could not put down this book.
The amount of research put into the writing is quite evident, and kept me turning pages just to read more about a garment or place.
The characters speak intelligently to each other, and each has his or her own vice. We don't see the stereotypes I've often read in other historic novels, and Lady Julia even breaks the stereotype of her own family.
The last half of the book kept me up until the wee hours, devouring each page and wanting more at the end. I am looking forward to the next book in the series!
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